Sideboarding for Beginners – Getting to Grips with Sideboards in Magic: the Gathering, by Kieran Baker

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Sideboarding for Beginners – Getting to Grips with Sideboards in Magic: the Gathering

Hello Everyone, today we’re going to discuss Sideboards in Magic: the Gathering, before that though, I’d like to introduce myself.

Kieran Baker I’ve been playing Magic for around 2 years now. Magic Profile: Four time, top 4 at the 6 PPTQ’s I’ve attended and went 6-2-1 (6 wins 2 losses 1 draw) at my first and only Grad Prix.  I’m an average player and you guys should get to know that up front.

Thanks to Manaleak.com, I’ve been given this great opportunity. Providing the MTG community with content they may (or may not) find useful. Hopefully the jabberings of a random content provider will at least provide a tiny bit of value to you.

So, what am I doing now? Well I’d like to provide some stepping stones for the newer players. Hopefully we’ll share something useful, or at least point you somewhere that will. Without further ado.

Sideboards are such a huge subject that can be explored in any number of ways. I’m going to try and give you as much fundamental information as possible. While also trying to keep the article short and to the point. Bare with me, I’m new.

What is a Sideboard and why bother?

Player’s sideboards in Magic: the Gathering consists of up to 15 additional cards. After the 1st game of each match you may consult your sideboard and add cards to your main deck. Generally you would then remove however many cards you added and place those cards into your Sideboard.

If our main deck had 60 cards and your Sideboard had 15 cards, after sideboarding you would would still have the same amount of cards in both.

Our reason to do this is to add better cards to your deck for the match up, therefore increasing your chance to win. While also removing cards from you deck which do quite the opposite. Such as Doom Blade against an opponent who only plays black creatures.

That’s a very brief introduction on Sideboards, if your are still lost in the woods about the rules of Sideboards, click here for the Gamepedia page on Sideboards.

Lost in the woods
Lost in the woods

How important are Sideboards?

Sideboards are one of the most important parts of Magic: the Gathering and I’m going to try and explain to you why.

Don’t get me wrong, the first game of a match is important, winning this gives you another 2 opportunities to win. However, even if you loose the first game, you can drastically increase your chances of winning the next 2 games. This is due to the sheer power that is sideboarding.

Lets me use this simplified example. Your opponent is playing Modern Burn, their plan is to be as aggressive as possible. They have low casting cost creatures and efficient mana-costed spells that deal damage, cards like Goblin Guide and Lightning Bolt. Before starting, the player has already won game one against our slower deck which has an awkward opening hand.

Now, if I had a sideboard with 15 cards like Lightning Helix and Kitchen Finks, I think it would be very easy to win games 2 and 3.

You also play up to twice as many games post Sideboard. Meaning that 66% of your games are played post sideboarding. So if your not very good at sideboarding, you are drastically reducing odds of winning.

Even the Odds
Even the Odds

Netdecks vs Brews

Netdeck is a term used when copying someone else’s deck, normally from the many available web resources. Brew is a term people use for home made/self made decks.

No, we shan’t start talking about why it’s better to net deck or home brew. In short what I’m trying to tell you here is that if you are net decking, then please pay attention to the sideboard.

Just make sure you know what each card is for. Lets take the look at the below deck list which I net decked.

Lands

(22)
Blooming Marsh
Cinder Glade
Evolving Wilds
Foreboding Ruins
Forest
Game Trail
Mountain
Hissing Quagmire
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

Spells

(38)
Attune with Aether
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Combustible Gearhulk
Decimator of the Provinces
Harnessed Lightning
Nissa, Vital Force
Pia Nalaar
Servant of the Conduit
Sin Prodder
Sylvan Advocate
Unlicensed Disintegration
Verdurous Gearhulk

Sideboard

(15)
Sin Prodder
Natural State
Dragonmaster Outcast
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Clip Wings
Collective Brutality
Collective Defiance

Upon looking at the side board two cards jump out at me. Sin Prodder and Dragonmaster Outcast. The reason they stand out is that they do not have obvious applications other than just being good cards. However, when “Choi, Yoo-jin” designed his deck he had a situation where he wanted these exact cards.

Now I’ve just looked at this list, but never seen this deck before. Do we know what his plan was? We could guess, but ultimately no. The point is, if we were going to play this deck we should either update it so we know how the sideboard works or play test his sideboard with expected match ups until we do know.

Alternatively, if you are going to copy a sweet deck you saw at a GP, find any articles they wrote about the deck. Very recently, Corey Burkhart piloted a Modern, Blue-Red-Black (Grixis) Control deck, to a second place finish at Grand Prix Dallas. Definitely worth a look.

Being the breakout deck that week and he wrote this article on Channel Fireball.  In that article we can see that he broke down the deck and explained why it works and how to sideboard against certain match ups, what a nice guy!

Note that, the pro players know how to build decks. They test decks extensively prior to Pro Tours and Grand Prixs. So we should look at why they are playing certain cards in their decks and try to make informed decisions based on it.

Too long: Didn’t read (TL:DR) version of this: No matter what deck you’re playing, understand your sideboard. Research why you are playing certain Sideboard cards.

Compulsive Research
Compulsive Research

Universal Answers

What do I mean by universal answers? No, sadly we’ve not found a secret card which answers everything (well apart from maybe Cryptic Command).

Instead we are actually referring to cards like Dromoka’s Command. Cards that have multiple applications, in multiple match ups. So when you are thinking about certain decks you need good cards against, there may be 1 card that works against 2 different decks.

Using our earlier example, our opponent is playing Modern Burn. Now you might think, we can just play Kitchen Finks like I mentioned earlier, and you’ll be right, that would work, but we also need to consider other match ups when building our Sideboards too.

We might have an opponent who is playing Scapeshift. Kitchen Finks is not going to help us in that match up. So consider this, running a number of Collective Brutality instead of Kitchen Finks means we’ve got a card that’s helpful against a combo deck and a card that’s great against burn.

Maybe Kitchen Finks would be a better card against burn. Thoughtseize would be better against Scapeshift. However, we’ve only got 15 card slots to use and we need cards that can help us out against multiple different opponents.

Another thing to bare in mind is this. Lets say we ran 2 Kitchen Finks and 2 Thoughtseize, we would have 2 cards to sideboard in those matches. But if we had 4 Collective Brutality instead of those cards, we would have 4 slightly worse cards against each of those same opponents. This adds more consistency to our post sideboard games.

Now that I’ve said this, sometimes you just break this rule. Some narrow cards are good against certain strategies. Stony Silence is great against affinity. Which means we are happy to run such a narrow card, only if we expect to be playing against affinity though. This is why its so important to test test test, work out what your decks most vulnerable points are and plan your sideboard accordingly.

TL;DR: Try to use the slots in our sideboards efficient, find cards that answer multiple situations.

Press for Answers
Press for Answers

Metagaming

One of the toughest skills to develop in Magic is knowing what you’re going to be playing against at the tournament you’ll be attending. We call this the “Meta”. I already hear you, we are not psychic, so how do we know what we’re going to be playing against?!

Let’s talk about my Friday Night Magic, this will vary for everyone, however, I do believe that the principles are the same.

I know most of my match ups, who’s going to be there and what they’re going to be playing. I’d be expecting Red-White Vehicles in good numbers, as well as two or three slower decks such as Green-Black Delirium.

We can make our Sideboard work to assist those match ups a lot, and I can quite happily ignore Blue-White Aggro because no one plays it.

However, if we were going to a Grand Prix this week, I would be checking www.mtgtop8.com for all of the current decks. As a result, we most definitely cannot ignore Blue-White Aggro.

All we can do is make educated guesses based on our understanding of what is being played, and what direction the format is heading in. Hopefully our guesses are correct and the gamble pays off.

Gamble - MTG
Gamble

Parting Words

While trying to keep this article relevant and aimed at the newer players amongst the community. Understandably some people would be expecting a more in-depth article.

So I would like to share some articles written by Pro Tour Champion. Paulo Vitor Dama da Rosa. I learnt a lot from these articles about sideboarding and would suggest anyone reads them.

Practice more with sideboarding. I’ve learnt over time that Sideboards are a skill that is best learnt from playing. I’m still very far from mastering it, but I hope this article will help someone in bettering their game.

Finally, have a plan for the matches your expecting, know what you want to do before your event. Remember you are allowed to refer to your own outside notes between games (but not during), I’ve had a Sideboard plan before and followed it, it’s better then not knowing what to do!

That’s all from me for now, I hope in the new years to start producing more and more content. In the meantime I would love to hear from you if this article was helpful.

Thanks for reading,

Kieran Baker

Sideboarding for Beginners - Getting to Grips with Sideboards in Magic: the Gathering, by Kieran Baker
An entry to mid level article about Sideboards in Magic the Gathering.
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